Three Letters Re: Running Chainsaws on Ethanol & Home Alcohol Production Stills


You can buy a couple of standard jets for the particular carburetor you are working on, then measure the opening in your current carb and add the 38% to the hole size and drill the jet out with the proper size drill. Be sure to go 38% larger in cross-section, not in diameter. – Michael Z. Williamson


In regards to the article about converting small engines to ethanol, there are a few things to be aware of as far as “being prepared” goes. BATFE regulations: Regardless of what you are making with a still, whether it be distilled water, distilled spirits, or alcohols used for fuel you must register your still, and have a tax stamp for anything you produce. While it is fairly easy to get an experimental fuel distillers permit, you had best make sure all your paperwork, and product is in order in case the revenuer ever shows up.
As far as the practice of making home made alcohol: Alcohol can be made from just about anything, however, the trick is processing it properly. When making alcohol from grains, the cellulose, and more complex sugars in the grain need to be converted into a simply sugar (glucose, sucrose). For anyone who has made their own beer, they are likely familiar with the malting process. In England making whiskey the old fashioned way, they would take the grain, soak it, and then lay it out on what was called a “malting floor” at this point, they would allow the seeds
to germinate. During the germination process, the seed creates enzymes which break down the starch in the plant to sugars to allow growth.
However, once a percentage of those enzymes are created, they will break the rest of the starch down into sugar regardless of the plant continuing to grow.
There are other ways of malting, in the Asian Pacific region, fermented products would be put in the mouth and chewed, mixing them with saliva which contains amylaze and other enzymes which break starch down into sugars. The resulting mash would be spit out and fermented. This process is ideal for potatoes and other starchy plants. Most fruits have a high enough sugar content to be fermented directly. Allowing them to turn a bit usually helps this process along.
When fermenting, it is important to make sure you are creating a perfect home for the yeast you want to turn all the stuff into ethanol. The way to do this is by killing off any competitive fungi or bacteria. This is done by boiling, since it won’t disrupt the environment after the yeast are introduced (compared to bleach or iodine). You must sterilize all glassware, stoppers, and tools you will use, you must also sterilize (by
boiling) the water, and whatever you are going to ferment (now known as the mash). After bringing it all up to temp, let it boil for an hour or two (this helps break down, and dislodge the sugars further).
You can now transfer the mash to your primary fermenter, this is usually a 5-10 gallon carboy, but could also be a 250 gallon pallet container doesn’t really matter, as long as it’s clean. At this point you add the yeast, most yeast needs to be activated first, by putting the yeast in hot/warm water.
In most cases it needs to be a brewers yeast. The primary method by which the yeast functions, is it converts sugars into alcohol, up until the point that it runs out of sugar, or the alcohol content gets high enough to kill the yeast. Thus there are different kinds of yeast depending on what you want–beer, wine, etc. I have heard of hybrid yeasts from New Zealand which can tolerate up to 25% alcohol (twice that of wine).
After a few days to a week (the best way to tell something is done is by waiting for it to stop bubbling) the fermentation should be done. You can now start distilling.

Still types and uses:
I won’t go into some of the more complex issues of moonshining. They often use thumper kegs, worm boxes, and other things I won’t describe since I believe the reflux method to be superior.
Pot stills – A pot still is a very very simple device. It has a pot, and a tube coming out of it which coils around maybe goes through ice water and then dumps into a jar. Controlling what comes out of this still is done entirely by monitoring the temperature of the mash as it’s boiled.
Reflux still – Similar to a pot still, but has a reflux tower on top of the pot. This is usually full of rashing rings, crushed glass, steel wool etc.
The tower is usually made of 1-2″ copper tube and is welded, soldered, or mechanically affixed to the top of the pot. At the top of the reflux tower is a thermometer, and a draw pipe. The draw pipe connects to a condenser.
The refluxing tower can be made more complex by putting draw tubes through it, these tubes will move coolant from the condenser through the refluxing tower allowing better temperature control.

The reflux still controls it’s temperature by throttling the fire (usually propane) and by throttling the water moving through the condenser and the reflux tower. Once you have loaded the pot with mash, start to heat it up.
When you get to 75C you will start to see vapor, and liquid come out of the condenser. If you desire fuel, turn on the water supply to the condenser and continue collecting until the temperature goes up to about 99-100C (the boiling point of water). At this point, you should now have a product which is 95% pure alcohol (the 5% is water, which has been absorbed from the air) if you want to keep it legal, you should now add about 5-10% of something noxious, gasoline, MEK [methyl ethyl ketone], or kerosene. Even if you don’t mix it with a denaturing agent, do not drink this, it is full of methanol, isopropanol, pentanol and butenol. These chemicals can cause blindness, liver, kidney, and other internal organ damage. I won’t go into drinking alcohol. But these are the steps to keep in mind for making alcohol.
You should now clean out your pot still. Just to warn you, mash after it’s been processed smells like boiled vomit. So I suggest you do this outside.
As a side effect of this however, you can make another chemical which is very useful as a disinfectant: Acetic acid. Use a beer/win yeast to brew with (giving about 10-15% alcohol by volume) and then allowing it to turn by adding mothers of vinegar (organic vinegar usually still contains mothers). After it turns, you can then distill it (as above) but the boiling point is different, or you can make glacial acetic acid. If you live in a cold climate, simply place the mash outside, and periodically squeeze the mushy ice. The water and other goo will freeze, but the acetic acid has a much lower freezing point. This can be used to wash vegetables, clean medical areas, bathrooms, and can also be added to the laundry to boost the disinfecting power of soaps.
Sorry to be so long winded, but I hope all that fills some gaps. – AVL


To correct an inaccuracy in a recent SurvivalBlog post: Having successfully completed the process to build a still and obtain an alcohol fuel producer permit, I can help walk your readers through the process to legally comply with Federal Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB) rules.

TTB licensing is required for all producers of any type of alcohol, including ethanol for fuel uses, for all types of uses. [The TTB now handles the still licensing- which was formerly administered by the BATFE.]Production of alcohol without a TTB license is extremely illegal and a great way to get sent to prison. There are a variety of different types of TTB alcohol production licenses depending on the use of the alcohol and the scale of production. Their primary concern is collecting the stamp tax on drinking alcohol, with safety being a secondary concern. There are a lot of hurdles to get BATFE licenses for drinking alcohol and for production in volumes over ~5,000 gallons per year – these include background checks, bonding, environmental, and location hurdles. However, it is extremely easy to get a TTB license for small volume production of ethanol for fuel and non-drinking applications. See the TTB web site for more information on the rules and application forms. The application is relatively simple. As long as the applicant can pass a standard background check (e.g. not under indictment or previously convicted of a felony) and makes sure not to fall into a couple of traps, approval is automatic and typically takes a couple of months. After you mail in your application, TTB will contact you for a telephone interview about 4-6 weeks after they get your application. Answer their questions honestly, don’t joke about making alcohol to drink, and tell them you want to experiment with ethanol fuels. There are two primary procedural traps that can get one disqualified. The first is the location of the still on the map you provide in your application. It should not be in your home (too much danger of fire). TTB want to see it in a shed or another locked structure separate from the home (even if only several feet away). The second is that you must already possess the still and have it assembled before applying. Once you get approved, you have to file an annual report every January stating how many gallons of ethanol you produced, how many you used, and how many you have in storage. You can also use this annual report to claim federal ethanol producer tax credits, but this is only of value if you produced hundreds of gallons of ethanol. You don’t have to denature the alcohol if you use it [for fuel] on site.

The Amphora Society sells several good books on designing and operating stills for both fuel and drinking applications and sells stills. Their PDA-1 still with the extension has worked very well for me and is capable of producing about a liter of 95% alcohol per hour at the maximum production level. Mile Hi Distilling is another provider of distillation equipment and supplies. For home production, space and storage for fermenting ultimately becomes the limiting factor as most home scale distillation systems simply are not capable of producing even close to the legal limit of your permit. If you are using the ethanol for fuel, you need to remove the ~5% water from the ethanol. This can be done using a 3A, 4A, or 5A molecular sieve. I have purchased and used 3A (3 angstrom) molecular sieves from Delta Adsorbents for about $100 for 25 pounds. Note that molecular sieves can be recycled by heating them in an oven to dry them. – Dr. Richard

One Comment

  1. This 100%.
    The heads contain copious amounts of methanol. Throw out the first 50-100 100mL depending on batch size. Furthermore, the tails contain acetone and aldehydes – good for cleaning, not good for drinking.
    Some of related info:

    This is still in 101 type shit – know what you are doing, keep it safe.

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